The rows of fold-out tables and a sea of green and yellow uniforms create an illusion of tightly packed sardines, the smell of deli sandwiches permeates from the cement walls of the Moshofsky Sports Center, and the energy of game day buzzes among the musicians who help define the Autzen Stadium experience.
At 9:30 a.m. Saturday, before Oregon football fans took their seats in the stands or the quarterback first stepped onto the field, the University of Oregon Marching Band ate lunch in a crowded garage after having already rehearsed for nearly three hours at Autzen.
Of course, three hours of practice seemed like nothing to freshman Monica Droker, who spent her first two weeks at the University in band camp rehearsing trombone 12 hours a day.
“It was a lot of work,” she said. “The good thing is that you meet people early. I feel like it gave me a boost on making friends.”
Friends is right. There are more than 200 members in the band and each instrument
section has its own traditions.
Droker, like any other OMB member, didn’t have to try out to be in the band. The only requirement was that she show up on Sept. 14, willing to memorize more than 45 minutes of music for the year.
“If you want to make the commitment of time then you can join,” said Eric Wiltshire, Oregon Marching Band director of three years. “It obviously helps to have experience, but we are willing to be patient and catch students up in that area if they have good attitudes.”
Oregon Marching Band is a two-credit class that is offered for $60. Once school starts, it meets Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3:15 p.m. to 6 p.m. for a grand total of 8 hours a week — significantly fewer than the number of hours they put in during the band
“We have already put in 90 hours of rehearsals after two weeks,” Wiltshire said. “That means every day of band camp rehearsal we practiced for the same amount of time that we would in a week of rehearsal during school. When you think about it like that, we just finished week 10 and we are preparing for the final exam.”
Droker said that although the long hours of practice can be draining, receiving hundreds of dollars worth of Nike band apparel has kept her motivated. Instrumentalists as well as the color guard receive combinations of shoes, pants, T-shirts, hats, rain gear and warm-ups. Although OMB members are not allowed to keep their entire uniform after the season, some items, including the shoes, are theirs forever.
For students in the Green and Yellow Garter Bands, the audition-only ensembles within OMB, the rewards are greater than a few T-shirts and pairs of shoes. These band members also perform without the rest of OMB during tailgating, volleyball games and other University functions.
Members of the Yellow Garter Band receive a $750 scholarship and members of the Green Garter Band receive a larger scholarship that is equivalent to 15 in-state credits per term.
Throughout the early lunch hour, student leaders set the musical tone of game day by interrupting their lunches, gathering their garter bands, warming them up and marching them by bustling tailgating parties.
This year, five of the 12 members of the Yellow Garter Band are freshmen — something Wiltshire said is unheard of.
The small size of the Green and Yellow Garter Bands doesn’t minimize their impact at games. As the bands rotate locations around the Moshofsky Center, people stop to watch them play.
“Game day wouldn’t be the same without the marching band or the cheerleaders,” Joe Williamson, a season ticket holder, said. “All of it is a part of game day.”
Meanwhile, in a dusty storage closet across the field, the band’s color guard rushed to get hair curled and makeup on. With only two mirrors to share between 26 girls, the task was not an easy one. Lucky for them, the 27th member, the group’s only male, has no use for curling irons.
“We would love a big room with lots of mirrors,” said sophomore Haley Webb. “Hey, Phil Knight.”
Adriane Bolliger, the team’s second-year captain, said the group’s rigorous practice schedule has created a family that makes the close quarters more bearable.
“It is not an option not to be close,” she said.
The color guard maintains the same practice schedule as the marching band, only with the additional meetings to sew their own flags. The band has four field shows that they have to prepare, and that means four sets of choreography for the color guard.
“We work just as hard if not harder than the band,” Bolliger said. “We are a big family. No one gets left out.”
Bolliger said the color guard has movie nights and an annual beach retreat to help them bond.
At 11 a.m. the marching band and color guard took their places in the stands. The band was happy to be sitting in nice weather even if it meant they baked in black long sleeves.
“It is better for the instruments,” said senior sousaphone player Anna Waite.
By the time students began filling the stands Saturday, the band was only into a few songs in and had already had a long day, but their energy didn’t fade.
“This is when it gets fun,” Waite said. “This is when we can use our music to connect with them.”